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← When to take a stand — and when to let it go

Ash Beckham recently found herself in a situation that made her ask: who am I? She felt pulled between two roles — as an aunt and as an advocate. Each of us feels this struggle sometimes, she says — and offers bold suggestions for how to stand up for your moral integrity when it isn’t convenient.

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Showing Revision 12 created 07/10/2015 by Morton Bast.

  1. This summer I was back
    in Ohio for a family wedding,
  2. and when I was there,
  3. there was a meet and greet
    with Anna and Elsa from "Frozen."
  4. Not the Anna and Elsa from "Frozen,"
  5. as this was not a Disney-sanctioned event.
  6. These two entrepreneurs had
    a business of running princess parties.
  7. Your kid is turning five?
  8. They'll come sing some songs,
    sprinkle some fairy dust, it's great.
  9. And they were not about
    to miss out on the opportunity
  10. that was the phenomenon
    and that was "Frozen."
  11. So they get hired by a local toy store,

  12. kids come in on a Saturday morning,
  13. buy some Disney swag, get their
    picture taken with the princesses,
  14. call it a day.
  15. It's like Santa Claus
    without the seasonal restrictions.
  16. (Laughter)
  17. And my three-and-a-half-year-old niece
    Samantha was in the thick of it.

  18. She could care less that these two women
    were signing posters and coloring books
  19. as Snow Queen and Princess Ana
    with one N to avoid copyright lawsuits.
  20. (Laughter)
  21. According to my niece and the 200-plus
    kids in the parking lot that day,
  22. this was the Anna and Elsa from "Frozen."
  23. It is a blazing hot Saturday morning
    in August in Ohio.

  24. We get there at 10 o'clock,
    the scheduled start time,
  25. and we are handed number 59.
  26. By 11 o'clock they had called
    numbers 21 through 25;
  27. this was going to be a while,
  28. and there is no amount
    of free face painting or temporary tattoos
  29. that could prevent the meltdowns
    that were occurring outside of the store.
  30. (Laughter)
  31. So, by 12:30 we get called:

  32. "56 to 63, please."
  33. And as we walk in, it is a scene
    I can only describe you
  34. as saying it looked like Norway threw up.
  35. (Laughter)
  36. There were cardboard
    cut-out snowflakes covering the floor,
  37. glitter on every flat surface,
    and icicles all over the walls.
  38. And as we stood in line

  39. in an attempt to give
    my niece a better vantage point
  40. than the backside
    of the mother of number 58,
  41. I put her up on my shoulders,
  42. and she was instantly riveted
    by the sight of the princesses.
  43. And as we moved forward,
    her excitement only grew,
  44. and as we finally got
    to the front of the line,
  45. and number 58 unfurled her poster
    to be signed by the princesses,
  46. I could literally feel the excitement
    running through her body.
  47. And let's be honest,
    at that point, I was pretty excited too.
  48. (Laughter)
  49. I mean, the Scandinavian decadence
    was mesmerizing.
  50. (Laughter)
  51. So we get to the front of the line,

  52. and the haggard clerk
    turns to my niece and says,
  53. "Hi, honey. You're next!
  54. Do you want to get down,
    or you're going to stay
  55. on your dad's shoulders for the picture?'
  56. (Laughter)
  57. And I was, for a lack
    of a better word, frozen.
  58. (Laughter)
  59. It's amazing that in an unexpected instant
    we are faced with the question,

  60. who am I?
  61. Am I an aunt? Or am I an advocate?
  62. Millions of people have seen my video
    about how to have a hard conversation,
  63. and there one was, right in front of me.
  64. At the same time,
  65. there's nothing more important
    to me than the kids in my life,
  66. so I found myself in a situation
    that we so often find ourselves in,
  67. torn between two things,
    two impossible choices.
  68. Would I be an advocate?
  69. Would I take my niece off my shoulders
    and turn to the clerk and explain to her
  70. that I was in fact
    her aunt, not her father,
  71. and that she should be more careful
  72. and not to jump to gender conclusions
    based on haircuts and shoulder rides --
  73. (Laughter) --
  74. and while doing that,
  75. miss out on what was, to this point,
    the greatest moment of my niece's life.
  76. Or would I be an aunt?
  77. Would I brush off that comment,
    take a million pictures,
  78. and not be distracted for an instant
    from the pure joy of that moment,
  79. and by doing that,
  80. walk out with the shame that comes up
    for not standing up for myself,
  81. especially in front of my niece.
  82. Who was I?

  83. Which one was more important?
    Which role was more worth it?
  84. Was I an aunt? Or was I an advocate?
  85. And I had a split second to decide.
  86. We are taught right now

  87. that we are living in a world
    of constant and increasing polarity.
  88. It's so black and white,
    so us and them, so right and wrong.
  89. There is no middle,
    there is no gray, just polarity.
  90. Polarity is a state in which
    two ideas or opinions
  91. are completely opposite from each other;
  92. a diametrical opposition.
  93. Which side are you on?
  94. Are you unequivocally and without question
    antiwar, pro-choice, anti-death penalty,
  95. pro-gun regulation, proponent
    of open borders and pro-union?
  96. Or, are you absolutely
    and uncompromisingly
  97. pro-war, pro-life, pro-death penalty,
  98. a believer that the Second
    Amendment is absolute,
  99. anti-immigrant and pro-business?
  100. It's all or none, you're with us
    or against us.
  101. That is polarity.
  102. The problem with polarity
    and absolutes is that

  103. it eliminates the individuality
    of our human experience
  104. and that makes it contradictory
    to our human nature.
  105. But if we are pulled
    in these two directions,
  106. but it's not really where we exist --
  107. polarity is not our actual reality --
  108. where do we go from there?
  109. What's at the other end of that spectrum?
  110. I don't think it's an unattainable,
    harmonious utopia,

  111. I think the opposite
    of polarity is duality.
  112. Duality is a state of having two parts,
  113. but not in diametrical opposition,
  114. in simultaneous existence.
  115. Don't think it's possible?
  116. Here are the people I know:
  117. I know Catholics who are pro-choice,
    and feminists who wear hijabs,
  118. and veterans who are antiwar,
  119. and NRA members who think
    I should be able to get married.
  120. Those are the people I know,
    those are my friends and family,
  121. that is the majority of our society,
    that is you, that is me.
  122. (Applause)
  123. Duality is the ability
    to hold both things.
  124. But the question is:
    Can we own our duality?
  125. Can we have the courage
    to hold both things?
  126. I work at a restaurant in town,

  127. I became really good friends
    with the busser.
  128. I was a server and we had
    a great relationship,
  129. we had a really great time together.
  130. Her Spanish was great
  131. because she was from Mexico.
  132. (Laughter)
  133. That line actually went the other way.
  134. Her English was limited,
    but significantly better than my Spanish.
  135. But we were united by our similarities,
  136. not separated by our differences.
  137. And we were close, even though
    we came from very different worlds.
  138. She was from Mexico,
  139. she left her family behind
    so she could come here
  140. and afford them a better life back home.
  141. She was a devout conservative Catholic,
  142. a believer in traditional family values,
  143. stereotypical roles of men and women,
  144. and I was, well, me.
  145. (Laughter)
  146. But the things that bonded us
    were when she asked about my girlfriend,

  147. or she shared pictures that she had
    from her family back home.
  148. Those were the things
    that brought us together.
  149. So one day, we were in the back,
  150. scarfing down food as quickly as we could,
    gathered around a small table,
  151. during a very rare lull,
  152. and a new guy
    from the kitchen came over --
  153. who happened to be her cousin --
  154. and sat down with all
    the bravado and machismo
  155. that his 20-year-old body could hold.
  156. (Laughter)
  157. And he said to her,
    [in Spanish] "Does Ash have a boyfriend?"
  158. And she said,
    [in Spanish] "No, she has a girlfriend."
  159. And he said,
    [in Spanish] "A girlfriend?!?"
  160. And she set down her fork,
    and locked eyes with him,
  161. and said, [in Spanish] "Yes,
    a girlfriend. That is all."
  162. And his smug smile quickly dropped
    to one of maternal respect,
  163. grabbed his plate, walked off,
    went back to work.
  164. She never made eye contact with me.
  165. She left, did the same thing --
  166. it was a 10-second conversation,
    such a short interaction.
  167. And on paper, she had
    so much more in common with him:

  168. language, culture, history, family,
    her community was her lifeline here,
  169. but her moral compass trumped all of that.
  170. And a little bit later, they were joking
    around in the kitchen in Spanish,
  171. that had nothing to do with me,
  172. and that is duality.
  173. She didn't have to choose some P.C. stance
    on gayness over her heritage.
  174. She didn't have to choose
    her family over our friendship.
  175. It wasn't Jesus or Ash.
  176. (Laughter)
  177. (Applause)
  178. Her individual morality
    was so strongly rooted

  179. that she had the courage
    to hold both things.
  180. Our moral integrity is our responsibility
  181. and we must be prepared to defend it
    even when it's not convenient.
  182. That's what it means to be an ally,
    and if you're going to be an ally,
  183. you have to be an active ally:
  184. Ask questions, act when you hear
    something inappropriate,
  185. actually engage.
  186. I had a family friend who for years
    used to call my girlfriend my lover.

  187. Really? Lover?
  188. So overly sexual,
  189. so '70s gay porn.
  190. (Laughter)
  191. But she was trying, and she asked.
  192. She could have called her my friend,
  193. or my "friend," or my "special friend" --
  194. (Laughter) --
  195. or even worse, just not asked at all.
  196. Believe me, we would rather have you ask.
  197. I would rather have her say lover,
    than say nothing at all.
  198. People often say to me,
    "Well, Ash, I don't care.

  199. I don't see race
    or religion or sexuality.
  200. It doesn't matter to me. I don't see it."
  201. But I think the opposite of homophobia
    and racism and xenophobia is not love,
  202. it's apathy.
  203. If you don't see my gayness,
    then you don't see me.
  204. If it doesn't matter to you
    who I sleep with,
  205. then you cannot imagine what it feels like
  206. when I walk down the street
    late at night holding her hand,
  207. and approach a group of people
    and have to make the decision
  208. if I should hang on to it
    or if I should I drop it
  209. when all I want to do
    is squeeze it tighter.
  210. And the small victory I feel
  211. when I make it by
    and don't have to let go.
  212. And the incredible cowardice
    and disappointment I feel when I drop it.
  213. If you do not see that struggle
  214. that is unique to my human experience
    because I am gay, then you don't see me.
  215. If you are going to be an ally,
    I need you to see me.
  216. As individuals, as allies, as humans,

  217. we need to be able to hold both things:
  218. both the good and the bad,
  219. the easy and the hard.
  220. You don't learn how to hold
    two things just from the fluff,
  221. you learn it from the grit.
  222. And what if duality
    is just the first step?
  223. What if through compassion
    and empathy and human interaction
  224. we are able to learn to hold two things?
  225. And if we can hold
    two things, we can hold four,
  226. and if we can hold four,
    we can hold eight,
  227. and if we can hold eight,
    we can hold hundreds.
  228. We are complex individuals,

  229. swirls of contradiction.
  230. You are all holding
    so many things right now.
  231. What can you do to hold just a few more?
  232. So, back to Toledo, Ohio.

  233. I'm at the front of the line,
  234. niece on my shoulders,
    the frazzled clerk calls me Dad.
  235. Have you ever been mistaken
    for the wrong gender?
  236. Not even that.
  237. Have you ever been called
    something you are not?
  238. Here's what it feels like for me:
  239. I am instantly an internal storm
    of contrasting emotions.
  240. I break out into a sweat that is
    a combination of rage and humiliation,
  241. I feel like the entire store
    is staring at me,
  242. and I simultaneously feel invisible.
  243. I want to explode in a tirade of fury,
  244. and I want to crawl under a rock.
  245. And top all of that off
    with the frustration that I'm wearing
  246. an out-of-character
    tight-fitting purple t-shirt,
  247. so this whole store can see my boobs,
  248. to make sure this exact
    same thing doesn't happen.
  249. (Laughter)
  250. But, despite my best efforts
    to be seen as the gender I am,
  251. it still happens.
  252. And I hope with every ounce
    of my body that no one heard --
  253. not my sister, not my girlfriend,
    and certainly not my niece.
  254. I am accustomed to this familiar hurt,
  255. but I will do whatever I need to do
    to protect the people I love from it.
  256. But then I take my niece off my shoulders,

  257. and she runs to Elsa and Anna --
  258. the thing she's been
    waiting so long for --
  259. and all that stuff goes away.
  260. All that matters is the smile on her face.
  261. And as the 30 seconds we waited
    two and a half hours for comes to a close
  262. we gather up our things,
    and I lock eyes with the clerk again;
  263. and she gives me
    an apologetic smile and mouths,
  264. "I am so sorry!"
  265. (Laughter)
  266. And her humanity, her willingness to admit
    her mistake disarms me immediately,
  267. then I give her a: "It's okay,
    it happens. But thanks."
  268. And I realize in that moment

  269. that I don't have to be
  270. either an aunt
    or an advocate, I can be both.
  271. I can live in duality,
    and I can hold two things.
  272. And if I can hold two things
    in that environment,
  273. I can hold so many more things.
  274. As my girlfriend and my niece hold hands
    and skip out the front of the door,
  275. I turn to my sister and say,
    "Was it worth it?"
  276. And she said, "Are you kidding me?
  277. Did you see the look on her face?
    This was the greatest day of her life!"
  278. (Laughter)
  279. "It was worth the two
    and a half hours in the heat,
  280. it was worth the overpriced coloring book
    that we already had a copy of."
  281. (Laughter)
  282. "It was even worth you
    getting called Dad."
  283. (Laughter)
  284. And for the first time ever
    in my life, it actually was.
  285. Thank you, Boulder. Have a good night.

  286. (Applause)